You experience anger when you think that someone else has done something bad to you1. For example, someone spreads rumors about you, someone intentionally pushes you in the train, or someone talks to you in a condescending tone. Clearly, the word ‘bad’ in this sentence can mean a number of things – respectively, hurting your reputation, hurting you physically, or insulting your intelligence. One factor is always present: you blame the other person for what has happened2. In most cases, this is because they deliberately meant to harm, insult or hurt you. However, in some cases you can also get angry if the other person’s bad action was not deliberate: you can get mad if someone accidentally backs their car into yours. In that case you need to feel that they are still somehow to blame – that they acted out of clumsiness, incompetence, ignorance, or in the case of the car, negligence. Only if you feel that the action is completely outside of their fault, for example, if their brakes suddenly malfunctioned, then you would not experience anger.
Not all cases of harm are necessarily bad: the dentist may hurt you, but if you believe that her actions are for your own good, you would not get angry with her. A child, on the other hand, may not be able to understand this and still get mad at the dentist.
People who get angry have a desire to retaliate or punish the other person. On a physical level, people get the urge to hurt or insult the other person back3. Oftentimes this may seem like a primitive response – an eye for an eye – however, several motivations behind this response are still relevant in today’s world4. Other people need to know what your boundaries are, to prevent that you become an easy target. In some situations, this may play out in a physical way, but it can just as well occur verbally. If someone finds out that a colleague has been criticizing him behind his back, he may retaliate by giving him a stern warning. Secondly, punishing may have a social function. Most people generally agree which kind of behavior is acceptable and which is not. If someone gets punished, this may prevent them from doing it again, to you or someone else. Even if you are not likely to meet that person ever again, you may go out of your way to punish them. This is sometimes referred to as ‘altruistic punishment’5.
In the comic, Murphy is negotiating with the representatives of the company who cleans his company’s offices. Neil accidentally lets slip that the other company was offering a worse deal, which is not the best strategy in a negotiation.